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Former Providence Mayor Says He Thinks He Can 'Handle' Prison

As he prepares for a new life behind bars, convicted former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci Jr. has shown few outward signs of the anguish his friends say he is feeling.

Saying goodbye last week to the local talk radio show he hosted after his sentencing on federal corruption charges, Providence's longest-serving mayor said he is viewing the prison term he begins Friday as a new experience.

"I don't know how to handle it. I mean, I've never been there before. But I think that I can handle it," Cianci said.

"You have to accept certain things that happen in your life, and you have to be strong about it and you have to have faith."

Cianci, 61, resigned as mayor Sept. 6, the day he was sentenced to five years and four months in prison. A jury found him guilty of racketeering conspiracy for masterminding a bribery scheme at City Hall.

His hopes of a last-minute reprieve were dashed Wednesday when an appeals court rejected his request to remain free while his case is reviewed. He will report Friday to the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix, N.J.

"This weighs on him every minute of his existence," said Steve Kass, who co-hosted Cianci's morning radio show. "He puts up a good front, but deep down he's obviously very depressed."

Cianci has been preparing for prison by saying goodbye to friends, updating his will, seeing his doctor and setting up trust funds for his daughter and two grandchildren.

"I think I still have a great deal to be thankful for," Cianci told The Associated Press. "I have the love and support of friends and family. I live in a country where anything is possible."

Cianci was first elected mayor in 1974 but stepped down 10 years later after pleading no contest to attacking his ex-wife's lover with an ashtray. Cianci, who was re-elected in 1990 and remained in office until the corruption sentencing, served no prison time for the assault conviction.

Incarceration will be a rude awakening, said Dr. Robert Wagner, a Brown University psychiatrist who has treated prison-bound convicts.

For two years, the dapper Cianci has lived in the Presidential Suite at the Providence Biltmore hotel. He's long been a fixture at upscale restaurants, and he attended Liza Minelli's wedding weeks before his trial.

In prison, he'll be told when to eat, when to exercise and when to go to bed. Much has been made of the fact that he will have to give up his trademark salt-and-pepper toupee.

The loss of autonomy is hard for most inmates, but "with people who are accustomed to public life, it tends to be magnified," Wagner said.

Fort Dix, a low-security facility on a sprawling military base, houses nearly 4,500 inmates, mostly drug offenders. Anthony Annarino, Cianci's former tax collector, served more than a year there after he was arrested in the same FBI corruption probe that ensnared the ex-mayor.

Initially, Cianci had been ordered to report to a prison in eastern Ohio. He was reassigned after Rhode Island's two U.S. representatives, Democrats Patrick Kennedy and James Langevin, and other civic leaders wrote to the federal Bureau of Prisons asking that he be allowed to serve at a prison closer to his daughter, who is undergoing drug treatment.

Nicole Cianci, 28, has been in a treatment program since police found her wandering incoherently around Providence a few days after Cianci was sentenced. Cianci also buried his 98-year-old aunt as he put his affairs in order.

"Most of us would be hiding under a manhole if they were him," Kass said. "To cope with all this stuff and still function the way he does is amazing."

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